How Reggie Wayne sees Colts receiver corps fitting together with Adonai Mitchell

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts have spent half a decade trying to build a complete receiving corps through the NFL draft.

While other teams give up major draft capital in trades or spend big dollars in free agency, Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard has stuck to his plan.

Build the wide receiving corps through the draft, particularly on the second day.

Indianapolis used a second-round pick on Michael Pittman Jr. in 2020, another second-rounder to take Alec Pierce in 2022, picked up Josh Downs in the third round in 2023 and added Adonai Mitchell in the second round this April.

The belief is that all that painstaking work will now pay off in a complete receiving corps, teeming with options for Shane Steichen to attack defenses in a variety of ways, growing with young starting quarterback Anthony Richardson.

“You kind of want different pieces of the puzzle so you can put it all together and create a whole at some point in time,” Colts wide receivers coach Reggie Wayne said. “Everybody has their role.”

Indianapolis has a few other pieces to the puzzle.

Veteran special teamer Ashton Dulin has produced as a physical blocker in the past; fifth-round pick Anthony Gould should have a role as a gadget player and deep threat out of the slot in addition to his duties as a kick returner.

But if everything goes according to plan, the heavy lifting at wide receiver will be done by those four second-day picks. Indianapolis tried to trade up in the first round this year, presumably for one of the draft’s top pass-catchers, but the depth of the wide receiver classes coming out of college football has been so strong for the last decade or so that Ballard believes a team can find stars on the second day.

Now, the Colts have to put it all together.

“As a group, if we continue to keep bonding, keep getting better,” Wayne said. “We’re going to be alright.”

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) runs out of bounds as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Brandon Facyson (31) rolls at his feet Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Michael Pittman Jr.

The Colts eliminated any doubts about Pittman’s role in Indianapolis this offseason.

By signing Pittman to a three-year extension worth $46 million in guarantees and $70 million overall, the Colts answered any remaining questions about whether or not the team sees him as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.

“Everybody knows that Pitt’s the money man,” Wayne said. “Pitt’s going to be the leader of the room.”

The production has been consistent.

Pittman has averaged 98.7 catches, 1,053 yards and 4.7 touchdowns per season over the last three years, piling up catches as the tough, reliable option over the middle for a string of quarterbacks who haven’t often pushed the ball downfield.

But both Pittman and the Colts believe he can get to another level if given chances, the way he was given downfield chances in the first half of the 2021 season with Carson Wentz.

“He’s still got things he hasn’t accomplished,” Wayne said. “If Pitt’s an All-Star, if Pitt’s a Pro Bowler, we’re damn for sure going to be in the playoffs.”

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Josh Downs (1) rushes the ball Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, during a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Josh Downs

Downs was hand-picked by Wayne last offseason.

When Wayne evaluated the diminutive slot receiver during the draft process, he saw a player who already had an advanced understanding of the game, how to attack defenses and how to run routes.

Downs vindicated Wayne’s belief by posting 68 catches, 771 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, and he produced those numbers despite battling a knee injury in the second half of the season that cost him snaps and production down the stretch.

If Downs had been able to maintain his first-half pace — 40 catches, 473 yards in the first eight games —  over the entire season, he might have been a part of the Rookie of the Year discussion.

“I’m not a fortune-teller, I just know what we had,” Wayne said. “We did pretty solid in our first year with him.”

Downs, 5-9 and 171 pounds, is the smallest of the Indianapolis receivers, but his quickness, ability to find holes in defenses and chemistry with Richardson make him an excellent target out of the slot.

“I can tell you, right now he looks unbelievable,” Wayne said. “Hopefully that’s a vision of what this year is going to be for him.”

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Alec Pierce (14) and Houston Texans cornerback Desmond King II (25) have an exchange on the field Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024, during a game against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Alec Pierce

Pierce’s first two seasons in the NFL have been marred by imperfect marriages with the quarterbacks the Colts have been forced to play the majority of the time.

Indianapolis drafted Pierce to be a deep threat first and hopefully develop the rest of his game later, but aside from 173 snaps with a developing Richardson at the helm last season, Pierce has spent most of the time playing with quarterbacks who were either reluctant or ill-suited to throw the ball deep.

For example, Pierce was often open deep in Shane Steichen’s offense last season, but former backup Gardner Minshew’s reluctance to throw the ball downfield led to more than a dozen missed opportunities over the course of the season.

“Alec is still a guy that can take the top off the defense,” Wayne said. “Can do all those things down the field.”

Pierce’s production through his first two seasons fits the role of deep threat: 36.5 catches and 553.5 yards per year, averaging 15.2 yards per catch.

A Colts offense that finished 24th in the NFL in passing yards of 20 yards or more last season would like to tap into Pierce’s explosive qualities more often.

What remains to be seen is whether Pierce can consistently produce outside of the deep ball, or if that will be his only role in Indianapolis.

“He can do some intermediate things also,” Wayne said.

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (5) celebrates after making a touchdown catch Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, during the College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Adonai Mitchell

The rookie is the wild card.

Indianapolis has seen the other three in action against NFL defenses. What the Colts have seen from Mitchell is more of a projection, although playing at Georgia and Texas did give this year’s second-round pick regular chances to play against the best defenses college football has to offer.

“The way he got in and out of his routes, he’s a guy that’s different from everybody that we have in our room,” Wayne said. “I already knew that his hands were real strong. … To be 6-2 and to be able to get in and out of your breaks that way, it’s pretty special.”

The Colts coaching staff has repeatedly referenced Mitchell’s ability to separate from coverage at the top of his routes since drafting him, an indication that Indianapolis believes Mitchell can be effective on a lot of different kinds of passing plays.

Under Steichen, Indianapolis will always be looking for more explosive plays, and Mitchell’s ability to separate after making his break is one way to create big yardage after the catch, along with the tremendous physical gifts he possesses.

“He has a different way of maneuvering his body,” Wayne said. “It’s kind of weird-looking at times, but it works for him. If he’s throwing me off, I know he’s throwing the DB off.”

How quickly Mitchell realizes that potential is hard to predict.

Most rookie wide receivers face an adjustment period, and Mitchell’s inconsistency at the college ranks was one of the reasons the Colts believe he dropped to the middle of the second round despite otherworldly testing numbers as an athlete.

But the way Indianapolis has built this receiving corps, Mitchell might not have to realize all of his potential right away. Pittman and Downs have already proven they can be high-volume targets at the NFL level; their strengths should allow the Colts coaching staff to highlight explosive possibilities for Mitchell and Pierce.

Finally giving Indianapolis the type of receiving corps the team has spent a half a decade building.

Related Posts

The Changing Dynamics of the Toronto Maple Leafs Forwards

The Toronto Maple Leafs have evolved significantly since winning the Draft Lottery in 2016 and selecting Auston Matthews as the first overall pick. Starting the 2016-17 season, the team built its…

2024 Cubs Heroes and Goats: Game 53

Paul Goldschmidt has been destroying the hopes and dreams of opposing teams since 2012 when he played his first full season in the big leagues. He has…

Colts eager to see new offense come together – ESPN

INDIANAPOLIS — On a first-and-10 from the Colts’ own 25-yard line, quarterback Anthony Richardson took a shotgun snap and quickly tossed the ball to running back Jonathan Taylor on a…

2 moves Sabres must make in 2024 NHL offseason

The Buffalo Sabres had high expectations heading into the 2023-24 NHL season. Buffalo missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs by just one point in 2023. They had a wealth of…

NFL analyst suggests final offseason move Indianapolis Colts should make

As the Indianapolis Colts continue into the heart of the offseason workout program, there are still chances to add more talent to the roster. Sitting with a comfortable amount of…

This Day In Sabres History – Flyers Win Cup In Buffalo

On this day 49 years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers won their second straight Stanley Cup, eliminating the Buffalo Sabres in six games with a 2-0 shutout victory at Memorial…